The History of Bees

“But bees cannot be tamed. They can only be tended, receive our care.”

A quiet and reflective book, The History of Bees examines the profound impacts of bee population decline. The novel bounces back and forth between the lives of three characters living in different countries within different time periods. In 1851, British scientist William seeks to revolutionize standard beekeeping practices in order to bring honor to his family. A century and a half later, George is an American beekeeper in 2007 desperately trying to keep his farm and family afloat as the bees begin to disappear. Finally, Tao’s story takes place in 2098 China where she works as a manual pollinator after the bees became extinct. Tao must travel to the dying city of Beijing to uncover the mystery surrounding her ill son. These stories, whose connection is not revealed until the very end, skillfully blend themes of nature, ecology, resilience, and family while providing readers with thought-provoking insights.

Winner of the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize (Bokhandlerprisen), The History of Bees sheds light on the importance of bees and the dangers of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). This book would be best used in upper-level secondary English courses to teach about the importance of resilience in the face of environmental challenges. It portrays the consequences of species extinction and emphasizes the importance of pollinators in maintaining ecological balance. Each of the novel’s three protagonists showcases a different perspective about the issue:

  1. Providing a historical layer to the novel, William’s story explores the various challenges faced by those trying to understand the complexities of nature. His narrative details the early days of beekeeping and pays homage to the pioneering inventors that developed the standard hive and beekeeping practices that we still use today.
  2. George’s story draws inspiration from the real-life bee crisis of 2007 and offers a personal insight into the immediate impacts of CCD. His story illustrates how the disaster significantly affects the livelihoods of farmers, showing how they heavily rely on bees to pollinate all the crops they sell. Furthermore, this segment discusses the implications of modern-day industrial farming practices, particularly focusing on the ethics surrounding pesticide use.
  3. Tao’s story depicts the long-term effects of bee loss through its dystopian setting. With bees no longer available to pollinate plants, food production has been substantially curbed, leading to world-wide economic collapse and a substantial population decline. This highlights the interconnectedness of life, showing how even just one keystone species going extinct could have cascading apocalyptic consequences on human lives. This section also talks about CCD causes, which include excessive pesticide use, Varroa mite disease, monocrop agriculture practices, loss of foraging habitats, and climate change-induced extreme weather events.

Although the bleak scenarios may invoke feelings of climate grief or anxiety, it is important to note that Tao’s story ultimately ends on a moment of hope. In the end, she uses William and George’s creations to help bring back the bees, showing that although our actions may not have immediate visible consequences, our hard work is still valuable. As the author states in the interview printed at the end of the novel, “As long as we have hope, we are also willing to take the steps we need to make our planet better and safer for children of the future.”

©2024 ClimateLit (Alexandra Delacruz)

More:

  • The History of Bees is the first book of Maja Lunde’s Climate Quartet series. See the series archive here.
  • While originally written in Norwegian, the book has since been translated into over 30 languages, including Arabic, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, and Vietnamese.
  • This reading group guide for The History of Bees includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing a book club, and a Q&A with author Maja Lunde.

Publisher: Atria Books, 2015

Pages: 352

ISBN: 978-1501161377

Audience: Rebels (14-older)

Format: Novels

Topics: Bees, Biodiversity Loss, Climate Change, Climate Fiction, Climate Grief, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), Eco-anxiety, Ecological Balance, Extinction, Extreme Weather Events, Food, Habitat Loss, Hope, Industrial Agriculture, Interconnectedness, Keystone Species, Monocropping, Pesticides, Pollinators, Resilience, Trophic Cascade

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